Many Americans Plan to Be COVID-Cautious During Holiday Gatherings: Survey

Megan Brooks

November 15, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

With the holiday season fast approaching and millions of Americans now vaccinated against COVID-19, celebrations could look vastly different compared to the scaled-back or canceled holiday celebrations of 2020.

However, a new national survey of about 2000 Americans conducted between October 29 and November 1, 2021, by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio, reveals that many still plan to celebrate cautiously.

This year, about half of Americans will ask their guests to wear masks – down from 67% of Americans who responded to a similar survey conducted in 2020 – and nearly three fourths say they plan to celebrate only with members of their household, according to the survey by Ohio researchers.

"What this tells us is that people still have major concerns about COVID," Iahn Gonsenhauser, MD, chief quality and patient safety officer at the Wexner Medical Center, told Medscape Medical News.

The fact that many people plan to put some "fairly stringent restrictions or precautions in place for their holiday celebration this year is a pleasant surprise," said Gonsenhauser, assistant professor of internal medicine at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.

"Vaccinated individuals and groups of vaccinated individuals can have a largely normal celebration. It's the unvaccinated individuals that are prohibiting us from having normal celebrations. It's the unvaccinated groups that really need to continue to exercise mitigation strategies and precautionary measures," he said.

COVID Cautious

According to the survey, the conversation about masks and vaccination status is one many Americans are willing to have this holiday season.

Half of survey respondents say they will ask about their guests' vaccination status, and 46% will require unvaccinated guests to test negative for COVID-19 before attending the gathering.

So what's the holiday party host to do about the unvaccinated, mask-averse uncle who wants to attend the family celebration?

"In this situation, the advice I have for people is to make sure you have communicated your priority, and if your number one priority is the safety of yourself, your family, your friends, and anybody else who is at your celebration, then make that known," Gonsenhauser said.

He encourages hosts to convey the message that "everyone has a choice whether or not to get vaccinated, and everyone has a choice in how they manage their exposure to either vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals," Gonsenhauser said.

"For the unvaccinated relative, my choice is that if you would like to be at this celebration, you will have to choose to wear a mask. And if you would choose not to, that's perfectly acceptable, but you can't celebrate with us," he said.

Winter Surge?

Gonsenhauser is concerned about a surge in COVID-19 cases with the approaching winter months. "If you look to Eastern Europe and some other places that have gotten colder faster, they've already started to see their COVID numbers rise quickly," he said.

In some part of the United States, case numbers have been decreasing, "but we are starting to see that decrease slow, and we may be plateauing. And if we are plateauing at 70,000+ cases per day, we are in the line for more surges in the future, and the winter could be what brings it," Gonsenhauser warned.

"Communities that have not adopted vaccination will continue to be plagued by COVID. Their hospitals will continue to be overrun. Their rates of hospitalization and death will continue to be high," he said.

The research had no specific funding. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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